Slow elevators and what Jimmy knew

Years ago, my brother was studying engineering at FAU and he brought home one of his engineering textbooks for the break. I started flipping through it idly and was surprised to find there were stories interspersed in all of the diagrams and equations. 

Beyond tales of engineering disasters, there was a story about a high-rise condo building with a flummoxed manager. The building had opened months earlier and residents were already complaining about the speed of the elevators. Elevator technicians and engineers were summoned to speed up the elevators (they couldn’t) while they flirted with the idea of using one bank of elevators as an express to the top half of the floors. No amount of tweaks could calm the vitriol from disappointed condo-owners.

You can’t tell by looking, but these were painfully slow in the 90’s.

They gave considerable discussion to grafting on another set of elevators outside of the building. The cost would have been staggering and caused massive disruption to the luxury building for a year. Despondent, the GM plopped down on a settee opposite the elevators and put his head in his hands. The same head the board would happily remove from his shoulders if he didn’t fix this issue.

An older service tech named Jimmy was attending to a lightbulb in the lobby. Seeing his GM dour, he asked what was wrong. The GM explained the problem to him and how it was useless; they didn’t have the money or the magic to make the elevators faster. While he had discussed the issue with the Service Manager, he hadn’t bothered seeking the input of anyone lower on the org chart.

Jimmy chuckled and said, “Oh, that’s the big problem?” The GM nodded and said, “I know, hopeless, right?”

“Nah, just put up some mirrors.”

“What are you talking about?” replied the GM.

“The elevators ain’t too slow the people are just bored. Put up some mirrors outside the elevators; people love looking at themselves. You’ll see.”

Desperate, the GM approved the installation of mirrors outside of the elevators. Within days, the residents were dropping by his office to thank him for finally cranking the speed. Whatever he’d done, it had been a massive improvement; the lifts had never been faster.

The lesson has been around a long time with various points of takeaway

The moral is that the supposed problem wasn’t the actual problem. Part of engineering is not only working out a solution but also in first identifying the real problem. Here, it wasn’t a lack of speed it was the perceived lack of speed. 

Jimmy – having been around the block a few times – had key-insight by way of his proximity and connection to people. He could see things clearly from where he was.

Look, I know you don’t have a gaggle of sages running around your organization, but you undoubtedly have more collected wisdom than you think. Involvement breeds commitment. Dust off a problem that’s been bothering you and let the rookies take a crack at it. Ask your accountants how they’d handle your key-rotation plan. Get your techs debating about the best way to make contact for collecting rent. 

I guarantee they’ll pull a thread you didn’t see; at the very least, you’ll get their appreciation for being asked. 

One comment

  1. I absolutely love this story! Thank you for sharing and reminding us that we need to get feedback from everyone on the team. Such a valuable lesson!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s